Study Strategies

What Kind of a Learner Are You?

Take a learning styles quiz to determine what kind of learner you are.  You can tailor your studying to best meet your needs and learning style.  This will help you become a better student!  Here is an example of a Learning Style Quiz:


Improving Your Note Taking Skills

Learning how to take good notes in class is an important part of study preparation.  If you don’t take good notes in class you won’t know what to study once class is over.  Effective note taking is one of the keys to effective studying.  Most successful students are excellent note takers.

The following tips can help you take effective notes:

·   Make clear and accurate notes. Often when taking notes in class you'll understand what the teacher is saying so you decide not to take clear and accurate notes only to find out later that you can't remember what the teacher was saying and that your notes aren't clear or accurate enough for you remember the details of the lecture.  Taking accurate and clear notes will (1) ensure that you understand the subject matter being discussed, (2) help to concrete what is being taught in your mind and (3) will provide you the means to go back after class and review the subject matter being taught.

·   Come to class prepared. Before coming to class make sure that (1) you have read all assigned readings and (2) that you have reviewed your notes from the previous class. Coming to class prepared will help you take much better notes.  You'll be able to take more detailed notes on items you don't fully understand.  And you'll be better prepared to learn new information not covered in previous class lectures.

·   Compare your notes. When class is over compare your notes to those taken by other students.  Sometimes other students will pick up on things discussed by the teacher that you missed or didn't find important.

·   Use abbreviations and symbols. In some classes it can be difficult to write down everything that the teacher is saying.  Use short sentences and phrases and easily remembered abbreviations and symbols in order to make sure you're able to keep up with the lecture.  The following are few common abbreviations and symbols that student can use to speed up their note taking: cf (compare), ie (that is), eg (for example), w/ (with), w/o (without), & (and), = (equals, is).  There are a number of other abbreviations that you can come up with to increase your note taking speed, but make sure you remember what each abbreviation is or make a key that tells you what each abbreviation means.

·   Write clearly. It doesn't matter how many notes you can take if you can't make sense of your notes after the lecture is over.  Make sure to write clearly -- especially if you're using abbreviations.

·   Review your notes. Review your notes as soon as you can.  Reviewing your notes directly following a lecture will make sure that (1) you understand your notes, (2) you understood the lecture and (3) it will help you to concrete in your mind the concepts and information you learned.


How To Study Biology (and succeed)

There are no tricks or short cuts when it comes to succeeding in Biology classes.  College-level biology is difficult and there is no substitute for hard work!

For many college-level biology students, rewriting lecture notes is a helpful way to review and organize course material.  However, a lot of students find this activity to be very tedious.  An alternative is a strategy known as Concept Mapping.  Like rewriting notes, this is an activity that helps you reorganize the information in a way that conforms to your mental “landscape”.  Concept Mapping helps you to discern the patterns and relationships between concepts.  Below is a summary of the steps in constructing a concept map, followed by guidelines to use in constructing the most helpful maps possible.

To Make a Concept Map:

  1. Make a list of the concepts from the lecture.
  2. Rank the concepts from the most general to most specific.
  3. Start each map at the center of the top of the page with the most general concept, which will generally be the chief topic of a particular lecture.  Below it, place the second most general concept(s), etc.
  4. Circle these two concepts and link them with a solid line.
  5. Work your way down the page, adding increasingly specific concepts and looking for crosslinks, which should be drawn with dashed lines.
  6. Add in details and examples.
  7. Do a second version of the map with the goal being to add formerly unnoticed crosslinks and to organize the map so that it flow as logically and clearly as possible.

Further suggestions:

  1. Attend ALL lectures.  This gives you a good idea of what the professor thinks is the most important information from the textbook.  It also allows you to learn by hearing and seeing simultaneously – much more effective than either one of these alone.
  2. Regularly test your understanding by explaining material to yourself or a friend or family member.
  3. It is always better not to be an anonymous face in the crowd – get to know your professors!
  4. Come to class prepared by having read (or at least glanced at) the assigned pages ahead of time.  This will help you make more sense of the lectures as you listen to them and this, in turn, will help you to engage your brain in lecture.
  5. Within 24 hours of each lecture (the sooner, the better) – ask yourself what the lecture was about without using your notes, and write your answers down either in sentences or in the form of a concept map.  This is the best time to spot points of confusion or discrepancies between text and notes, which you should write down and follow-up on.  It is very important to spend time in this fashion if you are serious about succeeding in biology!
  6. Pay attention to the figures in your textbook.  Figures are expensive to produce and publishers try to use them sparingly in order to reinforce main points.
  7. Budget your time.  There is such a huge amount of material to be mastered that studying cannot be put off into an all-night cram session before tests.  This is a time-tested recipe for failure; if not failure of the test itself, then failure to understand biology.
  8. Don’t be a hermit.  Once you have studied a good bit on your own, get together with a few others who are interested in understanding biology in order to bounce questions off each other, compare concept maps, create sample test questions, explain concepts to each other, and to be able to answer your colleagues' questions regarding those same explanations.
  9. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.  Concentrate on the concepts, not on the minutiae. You will not be asked to recall picky details.  You will be asked to apply broad concepts to solve specific problems and information regarding topics of discussion.
  10. Successful biology students have said they study at least one hour per day, seven days a week, throughout the semester.  For each 1 unit of coursework, you should be spending two hours outside of the classroom studying.
  11. Biology is hard work, so be aggressive.  Take it as a challenge and give it your time and your energy.  Do not take it with lots of other hard courses or a busy work load and/or a lot of family responsibilities – it’s better to take your time and succeed rather than rush through a program/class and not be a good student or feel successful.
  12. Know and understand all the terminology.
  13. If biology is your most difficult subject, then always study it before all other subjects. You must study biology when you are most alert and fresh.  Make sure to take 5 or 10 minute breaks every 20 to 40 minutes in order to clear your mind.
  14. The more you review the more you' will remember.  Also, visually picture the terms in your mind's eye.  Visualizing is a powerful technique for remembering terms.  Break words into small chunks and picture each chunk until you can recall it.  Then put the chunks together.  Remember, the knowledge of roots can be extremely helpful.
  15. Making up mnemonics memory techniques may be fun as well as beneficial.  For example, if you need to remember the 12 cranial nerves you can take the first letter of each nerve and make up a sentence where each word begins with the first letter of each nerve.


A Strategy for Reading Textbooks

Below is a simple method that will help you more effectively read textbooks.

P = Preview what you are going to read

      Form an impression about the subjects and concepts you'll be reading about.

      Look over carefully what you are going to read paying attention to main ideas, subjects and headings -- don't focus on the details.

Q = Question

      Form a question in your mind about what you are about to read and learn.

R = Read, Recite, and Review

      Read - Read the assignment.

      Recite - Stop every so often, look up from the book, and put in your own words what you have just read.

      Review - After you have finished, review the main points.

After you complete the review step, don't forget to go back and reread any section that you are not sure of.  If you practice this method, your study time is going to be much more productive!


Dealing with Test Anxiety

It’s completely normal to experience anxiety at some time or another – we all do.  And while we may not enjoy feeling anxious a little bit of anxiety can be beneficial.  A little bit of anxiety helps to keep you motivated, focused and alert.  However, too much anxiety may interfere with your ability to study, learn, remember things and perform well when taking tests.  Too much an anxiety about taking tests is referred to as test anxiety. 

The following are a few tips for dealing with too much test anxiety:

·      Develop good study habits.  Good study habits will not only prepare you to address test material but they will also provide you with confidence that will help to reduce unhealthy test anxiety.?

·      Be prepared.  Being totally prepared for a test is the most important thing you can do to reduce anxiety.  Knowing that you know the material on the test will provide you the confidence you need to overcome anxiety and the ability to perform.  You've got good reason to be overly anxious if you go into a test unprepared.?

·      Don't cram!  Cramming for tests leads to text anxiety.  If you'll prepare for your test ahead of time you'll be able to reduce a lot of test anxiety associated with last minute cramming.

·      Get plenty of sleep.  Getting a good nights sleep before an exam can help reduce test anxiety dramatically.  Conversely, not getting a good nights rest before an exam will make you tired while taking an exam and will lead to increased test anxiety.

·      Get plenty to eat.  Don't take an exam on an empty stomach.  It’s quite common not to want to eat before an exam due to anxiety.  However, if you get a good meal before taking an exam you'll experience less anxiety and you're mind will be more keen.

·      Stay positive!  Don't focus on failing the test.  Focus on acing the test and you probably will.  Thinking about what might happen if you fail will lead to unnecessary anxiety and just might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

·      Focus on the learning experience.  Don't think of a test as the final judgment.  Rather view each test as a learning experience and you'll get much less stressed out.

·      Stay relaxed!  Take slow, deep breaths and stay in control.


Improving Your Memory for Information

Remember information is essential to your ability to excel in school and later in your career.  If you are unable to remember what you’ve learned then you won’t be able perform well on tests and you will be unable to apply what you’ve learned in the real world.  Remembering information is an essential skill.  The following are a few tips and strategies for improving your ability to remember information.

·      Make the information meaningful. One of the most common reasons that students don't remember is because material is presented in a way that is confusing or doesn't make sense.  Students who try to memorize information they don't fully understand struggle to remember what they've read or heard.  Don't try and memorize the author's/professor’s words.  First, put the information you're reading or hearing into your own words is going to be meaningful and easy to understand.  If you can't put information, a concept or idea in your own words it’s very unlikely that you're going to be able to remember the material for very long.

·      Organize the information. Organizing material into to logical categories will help you learn, memorize and recall information more effectively.  For example, if you have several dates you need to remember for a history test putting the dates in chronological order according to a sequential storyline can make recalling each date much easier.  Instead of memorizing random dates you associate each date with specific event that lead to another event.  Information that is well organized is much easier to learn and remember than information that is unorganized.

·      Use pictures to improve memory. More often than not a person's memory for pictures or images is far better than their memory for words.  Creating a mental picture can enhance a person's memory of verbal and written information.  Mental pictures are especially helpful when attempting to learn and remember abstract words and concepts.  Try to create vivid mental pictures that represent the concept or term. When you employ pictures to learn verbal and written information you are encoding the information in your memory system in two ways instead of just one. Consequently, your ability to remember the information is greatly enhanced.

·      Active studying. You can not passively study material and expect to remember it. Remembering material requires active studying.  The best way to ensure active studying is to think about the information you're learning by explaining it out loud to yourself or other people in your own words.  Another way to actively study and improve your memory is to think critically about the material you're studying by comparing and contrasting, asking "how" and "why", determining its significance, etc.  Active studying will improve comprehension and enhance retention of the material study.

·      Frequent reviewing. Ever waited to start studying until the night before an exam?  I think we all have at least once.  While cramming is a solution it is not a good solution if you want to accurately and effectively remember information.  The way to remember information is by frequently reviewing the information.  You should review class notes after each lecture and reading assignment.  Review your notes and highlight key points.  As you review your notes you can also make additional notes in the left hand margin that indicate important information including vocabulary terms, major concepts and possible questions that would appear on an exam.  After reading textbook assignments you should go back and reread chapter headings and section subheadings.  Review the portions of the text that you highlighted or marked.  By reviewing frequently you'll greatly improve your ability to remember information both in the short term and long term.

·      Mnemonic devices. Mnemonic devices are memory tricks that can be used to remember factual information such as a list of words or phrases, and they often produce a visual image in the learner's mind.  Some common mnemonic devices include acronyms (the most common), nonsense words, nonsense sentences, and rhymes.??Creating an acronym is a good strategy to use to remember information in any order.  An acronym is a word that is formed from the first letter of each fact to be remembered.  It can be a real word or a nonsense word you are able to pronounce.  For example, MADD is an acronym for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.